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WHY WATCH IT: This nonprofit is sowing the seeds of change in underserved neighborhoods, one garden at a time Jennifer Strayhorn believes fresh produce should be accessible to everyone. Her nonprofit, HopeBUILD, has built more than a dozen organic vegetable gardens in underserved communities of St. Louis city and county, St. Charles and East St. Louis, while also offering gardening camps for kids. HopeBUILD makes a difference beyond the confines of the garden bed by selling a portion of the harvest to market-goers at North City Farmers' Market and also by providing nutrition education classes.

Strayhorn founded the organization in 2004, but it's this season that has finally yielded a bumper crop. In 2011, the 14-person HopeBUILD team (two full-time staff members, paid interns and a handful of volunteers) has had a hand in the completion of seven new gardens, revitalizing unused and neglected green spaces throughout the metro area. Moreover, the summer youth gardening camp, which began in 2008 with 50 attendees, has more than 125 students learning first-hand where real food comes from at camp sites in North City, Normandy and East St. Louis.  "The response this year has been overwhelmingly positive," said Strayhorn, who explained that the program impacts not just the students, ranging from kindergarteners to high school sophomores, but also to their families, with whom they share information about healthy eating. Keeping HopeBUILD alive for seven years has not-been without difficulties. Gardens don't bloom overnight, and developing healthy eating habits takes time. As a result, Strayhorn, the organization's executive director focuses on Iong term goals rather than looking for immediate results. "We have to educate volunteers on how to effectively engage the community” for such transformations to take place, she explained. And while the tiny organization faces budget constraints, HopeBUILD is now nearly self-sustaining. Strayhorn hopes that a new initiative, The International Garden, will be a revenue generator for the organization. That demonstration garden, whose construction is underway in the Vile neighborhood northwest of downtown, will provide a learning environment for budding gardeners, supported by nominal donations from visitors. SAUCE MAGAZINE 2011